The World Wine Web
When you think about the fine wine trade, you may have an image of a bunch of old men sitting around a table in a cavernous French chateau. With an eye-wateringly rare red wine sloshing around their glasses, they spend their days furiously discussing vintage variation, critic scores and prices, while deciding which of the wines from their seemingly endless cellar is the most valuable. Well maybe not. That may have been how things were done before (or maybe that’s just how I used to imagine it), but modern day wine trading is a whole lot different. Having a hand in setting up our new fine wine trading website recently, and sitting on tenterhooks every morning for the past few weeks waiting for the furious flurry of emails about the latest en primeur releases, the whole process got me thinking about how integral the internet now is for anyone looking to buy fine wine. Gone are the days of the traditional courtier, travelling to and fro from negociant to chateau by horse and carriage, carrying messages of prices and deals and facilitating agreements between the two parties. Now, everything is instantaneous. If I want to find out the price of a particular wine I’m interested in buying, in a few clicks I can compare every merchant from here to Timbuktu, how much it costs, and even how much it used to cost - if I want to berate myself for not having bought it 6 months ago when it was a fraction of the price. I can even see if buying in a different currency would be more beneficial, which at the moment unfortunately is truer than I would like to admit. So I know how much a wine costs, but is it any good? My knowledge of fine wine is strong, but unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to spout off the top of my head if the 1971 Branaire Ducru is going to be show-stoppingly brilliant and a wine to tell my kids about, or if it has gone the way of the dodo and would be more like drinking a bottle of vinegar that’s been left out in the sun too long. No problem, a few clicks onto a critic’s website and I can tell you everything you need to know about it from its aromas, how it tastes, when you should drink it, if it has any ageing potential, how it compares to any other vintages of Branaire Ducru and whether I should look out for the 1975 instead. You can sit back on the sofa with your feet up, and, prepared with your newly acquired wine and market expertise, order a case of fine claret from one of France’s most revered chateaux, safe in the knowledge you got a slap-up deal for it. The vintage is exceptional, it’s perfect to drink now (because you don’t have the patience to store it), and you can imagine yourself to be the Wolf of Bordeaux Street for a few hours.
Anna Von Bertele
Natural wine. It’s one of those phrases in the industry that some express huge enthusiasm for, while others turn away and don’t even want to acknowledge it. So what is natural wine? There’s no set definition, no scientific test that can be performed on a wine to label it ‘natural’, but according to a panel of experts at Decanter Magazine, it means a wine is: - Made from fruit grown in vineyards farmed organically or biodynamically - Hand-harvested - Fermented with indigenous yeasts - No enzymes - No additives such as acid, tannin, colour and little or no added SO2 - Unfined and no (or light) filtration - No other heavy manipulation At Roberson Wine, we don’t choose to buy one particular type of wine, or wine that’s only made in a certain way. We buy wine that we love to drink and that we think our customers will also love. It's happy coincidence that the wines we love tend to be from smaller producers, who hand-craft their produce and who often happen to follow the principles above. It’s wine production as it was in the olden days, when wine was left to its own devices, and where the terroir and the grapes expressed their true characteristics. This is not as simple as it sounds; you still need the hands of an excellent winemaker, who understands how best to make the key decisions – for example when to pick, how to crush, what type of fermentation to initiate. Done badly, natural wine-making can result in a cloudy wine that tastes like cider; it’s actually easier to make a conventional, non-natural wine, by hiding faults with sulphur. However, when done well, natural wines can offer a pure expression of terroir and grape and can be absolutely delicious. Our natural wine collection showcases the best styles of natural wine… and in case you didn’t know, there is a rumour that natural wines don’t give you a hangover… check it out for yourself.
Why Love Europe?
Europe means different things to different people. To some, it’s a hot-topic political entity; to others it’s just a place they visit for two weeks every summer. To us of course, it’s Bordeaux and Burgundy, Bolgheri and Barolo, the slate slopes of the Rhine and the volcanic soils of Santorini. Our tiny corner of the northern hemisphere is absolutely central to wine. Remains of amphora in archaeological sites are evidence of its intrinsic role in our culture since antiquity. Today we’re responsible for more than half of the entire world’s wine production and, I’d argue, an even greater share of its wine diversity. Few other regions can produce wines that would rank amongst the world’s greatest examples of ripe, powerful Cabernet Sauvignon, perfumed and silky-delicate Pinot Noir, sumptuously rich Chardonnay and pinpoint-precise, mineral-laden Riesling. Add in Galician Albarino, Nerello Mascalese grown on the slopes of Mount Etna, Greek Xinomavro and countless other uniquely European wines, and there’s no debate to be had. While wine production all over the world traces its origins to European settlement, Europe continues to set the standards to which the rest of the wine world aspires. The highest compliment you can pay many Aussie Chardonnay producers is that their wine tastes like white Burgundy. The best Napa Cabernets taste like First Growth Bordeaux. If you’re a South American billionaire with aspirations to own a great wine estate, the consultant you hire to enact your vision will probably be a European like Alberto Antonini, Eric Boissenot, or Michel Rolland. It’s not a one-way relationship; advances made by new world organisations like UC Davis have changed – and often improved – the way we in Europe make our wines too. But it’s fairly telling that many of Europe’s finest winemakers are turning away from the technological developments of the late 20th century, in favour of a return to the low-impact, artisan techniques used by their great-grandparents. So whatever your individual wine preferences might be, there’s obviously something about Europe that you should love. But if it’s so obvious, why are we making a fuss about it? At Roberson Wine we’ve become renowned in recent years for our unparalleled range of Californian wines. We were the first UK merchant to spot an emerging trend towards production of finer, more elegant and stylistically more European wines in the golden state and, with all the excitement and column inches this has generated, it could be easy to forget that the core of our range has always come from the wonderfully eclectic wine regions of Europe. While we’re delighted that our Californian wines have been so successful, when Cliff Roberson set up a wine shop on Kensington High Street in 1991, his idea was to offer the classic wines of Europe in a fresh, new and innovative way. 26 years later, our vision remains just as strong. We'll be shining a spotlight on our European range throughout June with our Love Europe campaign. Shop our Love Europe Collection and join us at our Love Europe Tasting on Thursday 22nd June.
What's in a Label?
With so many bottles on display in a typical wine shop and with so much (or sometimes, so little) information displayed on their labels, how do you make a choice? You might skip over IGP, DOC, AOC, Valdobbiadene, Napa, Premier Cru, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux… but, suddenly, something will make you stop. A label calls out to you. It’s embossed. It’s got a beautiful illustration of a bird, and stylish typography. You might still know little about the wine inside, but yet something makes you grab the bottle and head to the till. If this seems familiar, you’re in good company. It is widely believed that wine label art is reflective of the quality of the wine inside the bottle, so the theory goes that the more unique and attractive a wine label is, the more likely the bottle will be purchased and tasted. So the label fulfils a role far more important than merely displaying information. Good label design is not easy, but the ones that work best often reveal something about the winemaker, the winery and the wine itself. The label is our first impression of a wine, so it should be reflective of what is inside the bottle. Although it might not be right always to judge a book by its cover, you do need a reason to take it off the shelf. The London Cru labels have been receiving a lot of attention of late. London Cru is London’s first winery, creating top-quality wine in an urban setting, so our labels needed to unite the idea of fine wine with the unique urban location. As well as creating a strong visual identity and signifying the different wines across the range, the designs also had to solve a particular wine industry technical constraint. Due to the particularities of labelling law, we were unable to identify the grape variety on the bottle and so had to devise a clever way of getting around that. Since our wines could not be identified by grape variety in writing, our idea was to name each wine after a street or place in London that has a phonetic link to its grape (e.g. Charlotte St for Chardonnay). However, converting a set of thoughts and ideas into a visual message is no easy task and top branding and design agency The Partners helped us by translating our ideas into a meaningful design. We think the final designs are striking and elegant and perfectly reflect the vision we had for the wine. The map of London becomes a leaf skeleton and, when combined with the outline of the leaf, creates the perfect basis for the label. Each grape variety has a different shaped vine leaf, distinguishing the individual types of wine. And it’s not just us who loves the labels. We’ve won three packaging awards in 2017, including a Gold FAB Award for best packaging design for alcoholic drinks at the International Food and Beverage Excellence Awards. With competition from massive brands including Budweiser, Carlsberg and Bacardi, we’ve reason to be especially proud.
A Hot Topic
Climate change is a hot topic and the wine trade isn’t impervious to it; in fact we are more vulnerable than we care to admit. Regions such as Kent and Sussex, which were previously laughed off the table as serious wine producing areas, are now capable of making world class, award winning wines. At the same time, many of the classic wines of the world are changing with the climate - not always for the better. Take Chablis, which as recently as the 1970s and 80s was typically harvested in October, but is now routinely picked in mid-September. Previously it wasn’t uncommon to find Chablis at 11% or 10% abv, today 12.5% is the norm. What role might climate change be playing in this scenario? Making wine involves fermentation, which converts sugars in the must (the pressed grape juice) into alcohol. As global temperatures increase, grapes achieve higher sugar ripeness than was previously possible. Therefore, when fermented, these grape musts give wines with higher alcohol contents. You might ask: why not simply harvest earlier at lower grape sugar content? The answer, as with everything “wine”, is a little more complicated. There are in fact two different types of ripeness spoken about by growers: sugar ripeness and physiological ripeness. The latter refers to the ripeness of the skins, stalks and seeds, which often end up in the fermenting tank (more so for red wines that whites). The ideal scenario is to have grapes that reach both sugar and physiological ripeness at the same time. This is easier to achieve with cooler growing conditions that slow down the development of sugar ripeness, allowing the physiological ripeness to keep up. This is proving more and more difficult to achieve as the planet continues to warm. When sugar ripeness outpaces physiological ripeness, the vines need to be brought back into sync. This involves painstaking, time consuming and expensive canopy management techniques, including leaf positioning, leaf-removal (to expose the berries to the sun) and crop thinning to reduce yields. However, there are great rewards for growers who invest this time and effort, producing wines without excessive alcohol levels, but with ripe flavours, grace and finesse. Some of my personal favourites include: Trossen Silbermond Rielsing 2015 – 11% abv Domaine de la Cote Bloomsfield 2014 – 12.5% abv Domaine de la Cote La Cote 2014 – 12.0% abv Marcel Deiss Pinot d’Asace 2015 - 12.5% abv
Alsace is a conundrum of grapes, soils and producers. Unlike the other regions of France, where variety is rarely mentioned, Alsace offers so much of a mixed bag of styles that we usually have to rely on the grape to direct us in our selection of the wines we choose to drink. However, after spending an afternoon with Marie-Helene Deiss last week, I have been enlightened. I now realise that sometimes, less is more. In order to fully enjoy the wines from iconic Alsace producer Marcel Deiss, we have to get beyond 'knowing' the grape or blend and let ourselves be led by the terroir. You choose Engelgarten, not because of its grape blend, but because it is a wine from the gravelly terroir of Bergheim. A wine made from this vineyard has suffered through the dry summer, creating a high ratio of skin to pulp in the grapes. This creates an incredibly complex wine in structure and aromas, with flavours of cooked orange peel, wrapped in intense minerality. On the other hand, if ever there were a Doctor Who wine, it would be Deiss’ Schoenenbourg Grand Cru. These wines “express their undeniable ability of being aged to travel through time: rich, extraordinarily corpulent, far away from its norm.” There is always a bit of noble rot in the Schoenenbourg vineyard, which lends its wines their exceptional ability to age. Deiss’ wines offer any home cook a creative palette of aromas, flavours and textures. The gentle, subtle Pinot d’ Alsace makes not just a perfect aperitif, but also a great wine pairing with start of summer vegetables - tender pea sprouts, asparagus, and salade aux agrumes. For an impressive main course wine, the full bodied Mambourg Grand Cru pairs with prawn, lobster or pork belly. But be warned - if you buy a bottle, make sure you get two. Leave one for 10 years and you will get to experience the incredible, ethereal delights of Alsace at its best. It becomes a wine that paints a picture in aromas and flavours; not just something that tastes of grapes, but a still life of a climatic point in time and a winemaking impression of the terroir where it was grown.
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